Camping Knife vs Survival Knife: What You Need to Know

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You never want to be caught out in the wilderness with the wrong equipment, especially when it comes to your knife. Your knife can be a tool of many uses and is essential in the outdoors.

If you’re in the market for an outdoor knife, you’ve probably seen some called a survival knife and others called a camping knife. So which one should you get? What are the differences between a survival knife and a camping knife?

The primary difference between a camping knife and a survival knife is its size. Both are variations of the bushcraft knife, a knife designed for various outdoor tasks. Camp knives are smaller and stouter, built for durability. Survival knives are longer and often have serrations on the spine.

Both kinds of knives will likely be able to fill the needs you have around your campsite, but the small difference in size between the two actually serves several purposes that make them a little more specialized than you might expect.

What is a Bushcraft Knife?

Modern bushcraft knives are based on a Scandinavian philosophy that prescribes a small, sharp knife for pretty much all of your needs around the campsite.

It’s important to note that neither survival knives nor camp knives are necessarily designed to be used as weapons. While any bladed object can cut through various materials and anything with a sharp point can be used to stab, these knives are first and foremost tools for survival.

Unless you’re some kind of a knife-fighting savant, you probably want something else to use for self-defense. Especially if you plan on being out in the wilderness and are afraid you might be attacked by a wild animal.

Camping Knives

Esee-4 fixed blade knife
ESEE-4 Camping Knife

Camping knives have a fixed blade that is only a few inches long and a thick, square spine built for durability and functionality. They are great for use as a baton when splitting wood, as their blades are sturdy and somewhat flat on the spine.

They are also great to use while wood-crafting because they are small and maneuverable enough that you can get into tight crevices in the wood and carve details well.

Their tips are often drop-point, which makes them great for scraping and digging, without the tip breaking off. This makes them extremely useful in a variety of situations.

These smaller knives are primarily designed for reliability. While they aren’t indestructible, a sturdy camp knife should last you for years if you take good care of it.

Survival Knives

Esee-6 fixed blade knife
ESEE-6 Survival Knife

Survival knives are bigger than camping knives and can be up to six inches long. They can be used as a machete when you need to bushwhack through a trail or cut down pesky branches.

To ensure that these longer knives are durable, they have to be thicker and thus slightly heavier than a kitchen knife of the same size. This makes them less maneuverable but tougher and more sturdy.

The extra blade length also allows many survival knives to have a serrated edge on the spine or edge of the blade. These can be very useful in many situations, especially when you’re cutting rope or cutting through small pieces of wood. Survival knives are also often much sharper than camping knives.

Woman shaving tree branch with a knife

Things To Look Out For

There are many different substandard camping knives on the market. Here are some gimmicks to avoid.

Folding Knives

Knives that fold in on themselves have a built-in failure point that can seriously hurt their longevity. Likewise, cheaper knives may be made from cheaper parts that break easily.

Swiss Army Knives

It’s also important that you don’t mistake a swiss army knife for a camp knife. Swiss army knives are certainly useful tools that have a place in many survivalist kits. However, they lack the durability and thickness to be your only tool around the campsite.

Serrated Blades

Survival knives are also victims of all sorts of strange gimmick products. Survival knives where the entire blade is serrated may look cool, but they have almost no functionality in the real world. They are too short to work as a saw, but the serrated edge makes them entirely useless for carving.

Survival Kit Knives

You may also see knives on the market that look like survival kits and knives all rolled into one. They are advertised as having survival items, such as matches or fishing line, stowed in the handle.

While this may seem like a good idea, the knife itself is usually much more delicate than you would want in a survival situation. And the hollow handle makes it more prone to breaking. They’re just a bad idea all around.

Which Kind of Knife Do I Need?

What kind of knife you need will depend on what you want to do with it. It’s not a bad idea to have both a survival knife and a camping knife in your outdoor gear.

If you plan on going on a long hike and wish to conserve weight, a camping knife will be better because it is smaller. If size and weight restrictions aren’t a concern, a survival knife is a workhorse and would be a solid choice.

What To Buy

We have a great article addressing exactly this question. We wrote detailed reviews of the best survival knives on the market. Read through those reviews to find the knife that’s the best fit for you and your needs.

If you want to get your knife online without any further reading, we recommend the ESEE-4 and the ESEE-6. They are essentially the same knife, the first being 4.5 inches long and the latter 6.5 inches long. They have everything you’d want in a bushcraft knife.